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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Lessons From Jawbreaker: A Summary of Mistakes

Everyone has an idea of how terrorist leader Osama bin Laden got away during the battle of Tora Bora in late 2001. Some say it was the Pakistanis or the Northern Alliance's fault. Others blame George Bush in a myriad of theories from pure Texan idiocy to keeping the enemy perpetuating as to profit from the gains of war. Everyone has and idea, but only one is true. Former CIA agent Gary Bernstein, the man behind our quick victory in Afghanistan, tells us the truth: it was inaction and bureaucratic politics.

Mr. Bernstein, a twenty year veteran of the clandestine service, beings his story with a jarring phone call in the very early hours of August 7, 1998. He is told of two attacks against our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and rushes in to the office to deal with the problem. His expertise being on Hezbullah, the assumption is that Hezbullah has decided to extend its reach to attack softer American targets, but it is not beyond his doubt that Osama bin Laden's men might be trying to make their mark.

After going to Africa to investigate the damage and attempt to locate and extract the terrorist planers, he and a team of agents known as Jawbreaker entered Afghanistan in early 2000 to find and, if ordered, kill or extract Osama bin Laden. Yet, even before they can truly establish themselves, the first signs of the deadly bureaucratic fear within the CIA shows its face when Jawbreaker is extracted due to its unstable section chief's instance the team was in deep danger. It would only get worse from there.

Right after 9/11 the Agency was in full gear to insert several teams into Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a mosaic of many cultures and languages (Tajik, Uzbek, Pashtun, etc; Dari, Farsi, Pashtun, Arabic, etc), with Pashtun and Dari-learned agents being rarer beyond belief. Mr. Bernstein was told by his boss to gather a team and so he did, but one agent came at the expense of the Translation department. The new head of the Counterterrorism Center (Mr. Bernstein's department), apparently unaware of the impeding war against the Taliban and Al-Qeada, ordered the essential agent back to translating newspapers, wedding certificates and laundry lists found in terror hideouts instead of being in on the front lines [1].

The ground war against the Isalmists went very well, led by the reformed Jawbreaker team. 350 Special Forces troops, 110 CIA agents and the US Air Force along with 15 000 Northern and Eastern Alliance Afghans defeated a combined Taliban-Al Qeada army numbering near 60 000 in only two months. It was a feat that would be considered more notable than General McArthur's miracle landing at Inchon, according Micheal O'Hanlan of the Brookings Institution [2].

It was in the mountains of Tora Bora where the hunt for our enemies went wrong. Jawbreaker Juliet, a forward team from Jawbreaker, had found a major terrorist base and set up observation posts to direct air strikes on them. An agent on his way to meet up with Jawbreaker Juliet came across a functional radio tuned to Al Qeada's frequency. He heard Osama bin Laden address his fanatics. They had him! The Eastern Alliance had surrounded the terrorists, though the generals within the Eastern Alliance were untrustworthy at best (many of them formerly under the Taliban's pay). Mr. Bernstein requested that 800 US Army Rangers be deployed to shore up the Eastern Alliance and to eventually make a strike at bin Laden's surviving cadre, but his requests were constantly turned down day after day. Even with the knowledge of the location of world's most wanted private citizen, the military refused to engage. The rivalry between the CIA (who was pursuing the war with ungodly aggression) and the military (who whined about notifications and use of assets) had come to a head and in the end it cost us a chance to capture or kill the man who murdered 3000 of our brothers and sisters.

From reading Jawbreaker, I see that in a war such as the one we fight against Islamist terrorists, the old walls must come down now more than ever. In a war when civilians and military are interchangeable on our enemy's side, we must also be able to have civilians (CIA) and the military be able to act as one to capture and kill those who would plan murderous acts like 9/11 and Operation Bojinka [3] (an attack on twelve planes heading to America from East Asia). The left wing's constant crowing about the need to try terror suspects, or to do away with the military side of the war and rely on criminal prosecutions, is and always will be a short-sighted, bureaucratic approach to an enemy that does not have the burden of a bloated network of paper-pushers, uninformed activists and agenda-driven politicians taking a magnifying glass to every action done and grumbling over every little thing warranted or not.

A philosophy I've heard recently is that it is better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Reading Jawbreaker has solidified my belief that in a war such as we fight, we can ask for forgiveness for what we do after we've saved American lives from the wrath of radical political Islam.


1. Jawbreaker: The Attack on bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Three Rivers Press. Paperback. p.80
2. Ibid. p.313

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